Muv-Luv Alternative – Review

WARNING: Do not read Muv-Luv’s Wikipedia article. It spoils the game’s biggest reveals in the most nonchalant ways, though it seems that someone (me) deleted some of the most egregious offenders. This review will be as spoiler free as possible… I think.

Alternative’s apocalyptic setting isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Aliens have invaded Earth and humanity is on its last leg, just barely hanging on thanks to the use of super powered robots with giant shoulder pads.

Let’s get this out of the way: people reading this for the shoulder padded robots will be disappointed as the game hardly focuses on them. The mecha aren’t given any special fanfare. They’re treated practically, as if they were any other fighting vehicle like a tank or a jet. They aren’t powered by pixie sparkles or purified adrenaline. Realism is the intention (or at least as real as lolengineering/design for merchandising is allowed), and if you’re looking for a miracle machine like Jesus Yamato’s Strike Freedom to show up and save the day, you won’t find it here. If you’ve seen The 08th MS Team, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And while there are plenty of mechs to go around in both, they serve only as part of the backdrop to beef up the action scenes; they never steal the show because that will only serve as a distraction from the actual stories the writers wanted to tell.

The reason you had to trudge through Extra and Unlimited was so by the time you got here, you already know the girls, and with about thirty plus hours of emotional investment, you care about the girls. An amazing thing about this game is that all the girls are likeable. And by all, I mean ALL. When they appear on screen, you want to know what they have to say. Why are they happy? Why so distressed? Sometimes, or perhaps for the better part of the time, they’ll be the ones supporting you. You listen to them, and they listen to you. Takeru is one lucky bastard to have companions as great as these. In one way or another, they’re all waifu material.

You will see Yuuko a lot in this game. I didn’t do any line counting but I think it’s a safe bet to say that Takeru speaks more with Yuuko than any other girl. Part of the reason is that she’s the rambler a la Rin Tousaka. She explains anything and everything and she goes on and on. The base is under attack? Time is of vital importance? She’ll take twenty to satisfy Takeru’s stupid curiosity. Yuuko acts as your confident as well as your mentor but there’s not a soft spot in her. She will make Takeru face reality head-on just when he sees how harsh reality is; she fortifies Takeru into the hero that everyone needs him to be.

Marimo and Yuuko complement each other. Her individualism is the foil to Yuuko’s utilitarianism. Marimo is everything that the previous game made her out to be: she will put you down when you get too cocky and pick you back up when you’re down because she genuinely cares about her pupils. War toughened her outer-shell but in her lies a kindness that reverberates from the soul. In Alternative she puts it all to action. In Unlimited, Marimo taught Takeru the technicalities of battle; here, she will teach him the heart him the heart of war. She also gives good head. Look forward to it.

Kasumi got very little screen-time in Unlimited and she’ll get her limelight here. It’s medically advisable that you build up your tolerance of HHHNNNGGG before playing. She is the doll turned human and there’s little that’s more satisfying than seeing one show the first sign of genuine emotion. This kind of character and build up is all over the place but I’ve going to have to see it one thousand more times before I’m tired of it. Though in the end, it still felt incomplete and that she needed more time to flesh out her character. The Rei Ayanami and Yuki Nagato types possess the potential for the greatest amount of character growth because they are the literal blank slate. The opportunity was there for so much more but the writer didn’t take it. They needed another beach episode. Kasumi needed her own route.

Meiya serves as Takeru’s emotional pillar while Sumika serves as his emotional objective. Both their performances in their respective roles are simply phenomenal. And I think that’s an understatement for these two. It’s hard to put down their characters in objective descriptions; when I think of them I get sentimental. Meiya is the epitome of dependability, loyalty, and integrity. Sumika is the essence of love. Needless to say, Takeru committed a crime when he didn’t go the threesome route in Extra. I can’t say anymore. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

Initially, I was afraid that due to a certain timely plot device the experiences your squad girls went through in the previous game were for naught. Fortunately, the writer handles this quite elegantly in the first half of the game, and by the start of the second, the girls will be as right as before, if not more so. Unfortunately, because their focus was found in the previous games, they get much less screen time here. The number of interactions they have with Takeru dip dramatically after the halfway point and consequently, the girls’ character development (minus Meiya) from then on stays rather static, at least until the brawl with Goliath at the climax of the game. So, expect to see what you’ve already seen in the previous games, but not that much more. You can feel the gap and the writer knows it’s there – during certain parts later in the game he even decided to deliberately cast attention to their “growth” by having Takeru comment on it. See! See! Mikoto is changing! Tama isn’t the same as before! It becomes a delicate balancing act for screen time and a brave move on the part of the writer; after all, these are the main girls of Muv-Luv. This problem could have been somewhat alleviated if the writer cut down on the Yuuko explanations and the mission and training briefings; but honestly, I think he was at a dead end – he couldn’t take Takeru’s development any further with them.

The Isumi Valkyries pick up right where your squad girls left off and they accept the torch with an unexpected gusto. It’s surprising how well these new girls are inserted, even when it’s so late into the story. Originally, I thought they were put in to fill simple cameo roles but they’re hardly useless extras. They are a fantastic inclusion. Right from their introductions they become the mood changers. They’re going to be cracking jokes and offering insights on things Takeru is desperately struggling with. Three become particularly strong characters: Isumi, Mitsuki, and Munagata. They fill the much needed role of the superior officer, something none of your squad girls were fit for. The three of them become your role models; they’ll beat into you the lessons you are in desperate need of and teach you what it means to be a pilot the way only an older sister can. Isumi is the gentler one; Mitsuki and Munagata are a comedy duo where the comedy is at your expense. In the small length of time Takeru spends with them, all three become his endearing elder sister pilots.

A character that warrants a special mention is the Shogun. Saber failed to save her country because she just wasn’t king material. Not once during Fate/stay night did she show the ability, the prudence, or vision of a great leader. But she did have a lot of fire power. The Shogun is Saber in reverse.  The impression you get is that every step he takes has a purpose – his presence is immense but not arrogant, and every word he speaks and every movement he makes  has an elegance to it that when contrasted with Takeru’s usual self makes it all the more embarrassing. But from just your one brief encounter, the advice he offers is taken to heart. The writer did a great job with making the Shogun feel like a leader.

The supporting cast from a lot of games lack depth in the sense that the writers never bothered to develop their relationships outside of the one with the protagonist – it’s as if the protagonist is the only person they have any real interaction with. Alternative’s writer spared no one from added depth. I simply cannot praise enough how well all of their various personalities, quirks, and inner conflicts clash and mix together to form the most endearing comradeship. Arguably, it’s Takeru that ties them together, but they are not in it just for him; they are there to support each other. During a certain heart-to-heart with Isumi, she explains that the primary reason war veterans fought was not for glory, family, or country, but for their companions in arms. And by the time you get to this scene, you can feel the tangibility of their companionship.

Indeed, the chicks are great. But Alternative isn’t about the chicks. Routes are named after the girl because the focus of the routes’ stories is the girl. If anything then, Alternative is Takeru’s “route.” Here, he is the exact opposite of the faceless visual novel protagonist. The FVNP is there to provide a window for the player to see into heroine’s character, life, and drama.  Occasionally, the FVNP will also give the heroine a nudge here or there to put her on the right track towards her story. Alternative is his story and the focus here is all on Takeru’s development.

(Apparently, âge was so afraid of making a game that concentrated on a dude that, in desperation, they made the entire supporting cast into the hoohah hoedown that it is. Or at least that’s the theory I’m going with.)

Takeru Shirogane is your average man. Actually, he is less than your average man. He is a 16 year old Japanese school boy suburban raised and pampered to infinity and he has been thrown into hell. In his own words, the world has gone insane. For every step he takes, for every mistake he makes, you will be there with him on his journey to save that insane world.

Takeru talks to himself a lot.

<<<UNFINISHED>>>

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2 Comments to “Muv-Luv Alternative – Review”

  1. Very interesting. Will be looking forward to the conclusion of your review.

    Heh, man you know you’re going to give people psychological scars with that Marimo line right? And the Shogun part was very deft and subtle.

    I see MLA as a maturity test. Just how good are you at facing emotions and life’s most difficult questions? If Takeru has problems and the reader has problems, then they snowball and often the reader will feel his problem is with Takeru, when in fact it’s a symbiotic resonance going on where both are “stuck” at not having a conclusion. Which, at the end, makes it all the more powerful a reaction.

    MLA pulls no punches.

    I remember a quote on life and death.

    To be honest I do not think whether they live or die is the matter at hand. Life is not always better than death. It is not that simple. Living and being made to live are very different things. What matters is what the person chooses of their own free will. Whether or not it can be achieved or how difficult it is.

    I want you to think about this… imagine if what matters most to you was taken away against your will. If that is indeed worth less than your life

    -Read MLA

    “‘He either fears his fate too much,
    Or his desert is small,
    Who fears to put it to the touch,
    And win or lose it all.’ – Montrose’s Toast

    What you of the CHOAM directorate seem unable to understand is that you seldom find real loyalties in commerce. When did you last hear of a clerk giving his life for the company? Perhaps your deficiency rests in the false assumption that you can order men to think and cooperate. This has been a failure of everything from religions to general staffs throughout history. General staffs have a long record of destroying their own nations. As to religions, I recommend a rereading of Thomas Aquinas. As to you of CHOAM, what nonsense you believe! Men must want to do things out of their own innermost drives. People, not commercial organizations or chains of command, are what make great civilizations work. Every civilization depends upon the quality of the individuals it produces. If you over-organize humans, over-legalize them, suppress their urge to greatness — they cannot work and their civilization collapses.
    -A letter to CHOAM, Attributed to The Preacher

    P.S.

    Btw, the point made in MLA is not that soldiers fight only for the friends they see. It is a more subtle distinction than that. Human beings stop thinking about societal status when in a life and death situation where they must usher in every resource simply to survive. That means if their family isn’t a factor in their survival, they don’t think about it much and they certainly can’t use it as motivation for the present crisis. The stress and fear of dying is so immense, as well as that of seeing companions fall in battle, that humans literally need something right in front of them as motivation and support. But on the other hand, a person that fights only for personal loyalties is like the tribalist. He has no intention of saving the world and will gut anybody that isn’t part of his tribe, just because he only cares about personal connections.

    MLA makes the smooth point that a human warrior requires both objectives: abstract goals that can be accomplished in the future, and personal goals that can be accomplished soon. Fighting a war and hoping one achieves victory, is not going to be enough to motivate people to give their all in a battle that they know they will repeat time and time again, assuming they even survive. Humans are finicky entities. They need a certain special kind of “fuel’ to burn with the fire of life.

  2. Took me a few nights, but I finally cleared the whole thing. Quick thoughts:

    The good

    – My GOD, their lips are moving!
    – Cassandra syndrome, always fun.
    – Time leaps, alternate realities– very awesome.
    – Race against time, sense of urgency, also nice.
    – A couple great tracks. Maybe three.
    – What’s that Ohdeargodwhathappenedtoyour–
    – Meiya was my favorite character. Kasumi takes second.
    – Shut up, the mecha action was great. Don’t take that away from me!
    – Most voices get the job done. Sumika was my all-time favorite through the entire franchise.
    – Satisfying ending. Big plus.

    The bad

    – Way too introspective. I don’t mind having to follow Takeru’s train of thought about every little thing that piques his curiosity, but it really starts to bother me when he triple-checks on stuff we already went through. Give me a little credit here– at least pretend I’m paying attention.
    – It can get a little convoluted. The Shogun subplot was the worst offender here, with everyone suddenly having a reason to take the situation personally. Probably my least favorite part.
    – Choices have very little impact on the story. I’d be more mad about it, but I’ll take this over what they did with Unlimited.
    – If I ever recommend it, I’ll tell them to skip the military jargon. 80% of the briefings are pointless and what does matter gets a flashback whenever it becomes pertinent.

    Not much else to say here. It was pretty damn interesting, all things considered.

    Now excuse me while I go back to convincing myself there nothing else left to read or unlock from it.

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